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Of Life and Limb
A new Navy hospital facility caters to military amputees.
Edited by Thomas K. Arnold
CAPTAIN BRUCE GILLINGHAM expected to see a lot of blast injuries during the seven months he spent in Iraq last year. But the Navy surgeon and his colleagues in the field were shocked by the magnitude of those injuries, caused mostly by improvised explosive devices. These hidden, homemade bombs cause injuries that in previous conflicts probably would have been fatal. In Iraq, care from doctors such as Gillingham, the director of surgery at the Naval Medical Center San Diego until May this year, have raised the survival rate to 90 percent.
“The number of patients we saw in the field who were traumatically injured, and the extent of those injuries . . . made it clear we needed a comprehensive center to address all their needs,” says Gillingham.
Thus was born “C5”—the Comprehensive Combat Casualty Care Center—which this month begins serving some of the war’s more severely injured. Located at the Naval Medical Center San Diego, C5 is now the military’s center for amputee care in the western United States, and will handle about 50 amputees a year. In January, 25,000 Marines from Camp Pendleton were sent to Iraq, and Gillingham says as many as 200 will return with serious injuries. About a quarter of those will be amputees, who often require multiple surgeries and years of rehabilitative care.
C5 is a one-stop shop—an array of services in one place designed specifically for those with very severe injuries. Initial Department of Defense funding for the project is about $6.2 million. When construction—still ongoing—is complete, the center will contain a large, open physical therapy area where patients can talk and watch each other’s progress. An occupational-therapy living apartment will allow amputees to practice using prosthetics in performing everyday tasks, such as cooking, getting out of bed and using the bathroom. A nearby courtyard is being transformed into an outdoor-terrain testing ground, where patients can walk, run and even rock-climb with their prosthetics.
The C5 staff includes Paralympic athlete Casey Tibbs, a below-knee amputee and Naval petty officer who was part of the gold-medal-winning relay team in Athens in 2004. He also won a silver medal in the pentathlon. Tibbs will assist in the disabled sports program.
“These patients are very young —you’re talking a 20-year-old kid used to running, swimming and biking,” says Commander Kathy F. Goldberg, head of physical and occupational therapy at the Naval Medical Center. “Our approach to rehab is that these are tactical, elite athletes. We need to give them a good quality of life.”
To help with their transition out of the military, C5 patients will use the new Balboa Career Transition Center, just installed at the medical center. A joint effort by the NMCSD, Veterans Affairs in San Diego, the Department of Labor’s California State Veterans’ Employment and Training Service and the state’s Employment Development Department, the center offers career counseling, vocational assessment, job referrals and other services.
“Having a career goal is part of the recovery,” says Joseph Moran, with the Department of Labor. “It’s not about what they can’t do, it’s about what they can do.” —EILENE ZIMMERMAN
Bursting with Pride
RON DEHARTE CAN’T HELP BUT NOTE the irony that the biggest civic event on San Diego’s calendar is now the annual Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Parade. You read it right——the parade, now in its 32nd year, is a bigger deal in this red city, in this red county, than the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, the Mother Goose Parade and every other public celebration. More than 150,000 people are expected to converge on Balboa Park this year for the parade and the three-day 2006 San Diego Pride Celebration, of which the July 29 parade is the centerpiece.
“It’s an interesting paradox,” says deHarte, a former vice president at the San Diego Chamber of Commerce and now San Diego Pride’s executive director. “We’re in a city people would call very conservative, but the largest annual civic event is the San Diego Pride Parade. How the hell does that happen?”
It’s a rhetorical question. “It just goes to show San Diego is not just ultraconservative,” deHarte says. “We have an incredibly large LGBT population in San Diego County, and the members of our community are becoming more active and participating more now than 10 or 20 years ago.”
There’s also a far greater “level of acceptance and understanding, across the board, and that’s making all the difference in the world,” deHarte says. “While events like the Pride Parade promote a sense of diversity and acceptance, it is not a gay event——it’s an event for the entire city.”
This year’s parade kicks off at 11 a.m. Saturday, July 29, on University Avenue at Normal Street, proceeds west to Sixth Avenue, then follows Sixth to Upas Street. The parade is preceded the night before by the Spirit of Stonewall rally in Balboa Park, followed by a festival, with 10 stages and more than 70 bands. More info: 619-297-7683 or sdpride.org.